2-2: Russia's Big Win, the NAFTA World Cup, and the Future of South American Football

[00:00:05] David Goldblatt: Welcome back to Game of Our Lives. I'm David Goldblatt. And yes, the World Cup 2018 has finally started. We're recording this just minutes after the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia in which the Russians extraordinarily have managed to score five goals and Saudi Arabia have proved what we did suspect that they are the poorest team at this tournament. With me as usual to talk about that and an awful lot more is Al Jazeera journalist Tony Karon. Hello Tony. 

[00:00:32] TK: Hello David. Having a laugh. 

[00:00:34] DG: Hahaha. And at the dials also having a laugh I hope is our producer Raja Shah. Hello Raja. 

[00:00:40] RS: Hello David. Hello Tony. 

[00:00:41] DG: Okay so let's just crack on. That game, it was five nil. What did you make of that Tony? 

[00:00:47] TK: Well if a Russian side that poor can put five past Saudi Arabia then you're talking about a team that's desperately poor. That to me felt like watching you know the English second tier it's called the Championship — that would be the playoff game. That would be sort of, the quality of football there was kind of you know Darby County versus Aston Villa perhaps. 

[00:01:06] DG: They completely fell to pieces. There were seven minutes of urgency and then you know why pass forward when you can pass backwards and lose the ball. 

[00:01:14] TK: You know you have to think if that's how they're going to perform against this very mediocre Russian team how are they going to do against Luis Suarez and against Mohammed Salah? 

[00:01:24] DG: I also enjoyed, I don't know if you saw Tony there was a moment when the cameras focused on the troika themselves the Crown Prince Mohammed from Saudi Arabia on the one side. Vladimir Putin on the other. And then Gianni Infantino in the middle. It sort of reminded me of a scene out of Woody Allen's Sleeper where people are fighting over the orb. 

[00:01:45] TK: Well yes there was a handshake between Putin and MBS after the first goal that made you wonder, was there a bet on this? You know, has an oilfield changed hands somewhere? But even more arch I think was- you might have noticed that among the advertisers featured prominently on the hoardings was Qatar Airways. Now Qatar Airways is not allowed to fly in Saudi airspace because of the blockade that Saudi Arabia has put on what is its arch regional nemesis Qatar. It would have been very very annoying to the Saudis and probably cause a bit of a chuckle in Doha to have the Qatar Airways ad backing this humiliating defeat. 

[00:02:21] DG: I wonder if the opening ceremony caused a similar chuckle in the Gulf. What did you make of it Tony? Did you actually watch the opening ceremony this time around? 

[00:02:30] TK: I did and I really wonder what to make of these things. I mean it's a mishmash it's a mashup. It’s like every nintendo character that ever was is suddenly featured in the same game.

[00:02:41] DG: I mean the way I read it, is you know look at Sochi 2014. Okay, another sporting mega event and it's an unbelievable and rather surreal Cyrillic alphabet of Russian triumph and Russian icons, you know done in extraordinary 3D. And it's time for a different message isn't it? I kind of felt like normal wholesome entertainment from a normal wholesome country. Saturday night on state television a variety show, you know, with the kind of pop star who likes to sing for oligarchs, a diva from the opera, jugglers, acrobats, bad costumes. The smell of normalization is in my nostrils. 

[00:03:25] TK: And Putin's inspirational speech which sounded like, I don't know if you remember Inprecor the old Soviet commenter and press agency- 

[00:03:34] DG: With some affection. 

[00:03:35] TK: Yes exactly. A great step forward in promoting friendship and understanding among the peoples. 

[00:03:40] DG: I thought that was fantastic. I mean he stays on script. But you know Infantino he can't resist can he? He has to have a little flourish and he says you know football is going to conquer Russia. And do you know what? I think exactly the opposite is what is going to happen. Russia and the Russian regime has conquered football. Raja did you manage to catch any of this? 

[00:04:03] RS: Yeah, on your recommendation I set my alarm early here in San Francisco to catch the very beginning of this opening ceremony and I have to say I think my favorite part was following along on our Whatsapp group. I mean half of this is unpublishable, but I would just like to read some choice quotes here. My favorite I think is from Tony Karon which just says all of this is meaningless. 

[00:04:20] DG: You know but guys, this is a window on the soul of the Russian ruling class. I don't think that's meaningless. I think that carries an enormous weight of meaning. It just, you know, it depends on how you feel about the meaning. One of the other great features of this World Cup has been the FIFA Congress. The get together, the hootenanny for the football family. They always hold one on the eve of a World Cup. I wonder Tony, did you manage to catch any of the splendid Congress on Wednesday? 

[00:04:50] TK: David I'm afraid some of us have day jobs. 

[00:04:54] DG: This is why at nine o'clock in the morning I find myself at my breakfast table watching it on the YouTube stream. I mean just say you know to set this moment and this gaming context. That is where Russia and politics has conquered football rather than the other way around. Vladimir Putin is not, two days ago, signed up to speak at the Congress, right. Somewhere between agenda items 6 and 7 Gianni Infantino suddenly looking very flustered turns to the general secretary who says no we're not going to the next item. The president of the Russian Federation has turned up and he sweeps into the place, works the room. The smile is magnetic. The charm, the handshake, and they give him the rostrum and he has his moment and it's like this is my show. And we're so used to kind of thinking about host countries being in thrall you know to the colonial metropol of FIFA. And you know what, this time around FIFA is actually- when it comes to manipulating the spectacle, FIFA has met its match. Vladimir Putin for the Golden Boot in this tournament. 

[00:06:02] RS: Now you know speaking of Infantino we had Al Jazeera correspondent Lee Wellings in the room on Wednesday and he managed to ask a question to Gianni Infantino about a different world leader about Donald Trump. Surprise surprise he had trouble getting a straight answer. 

[00:06:17] DG: Hey dude well let's hear that! Let's hear that Raja, play it. 

[00:06:20] Lee Wellings: I mentioned what's now an infamous tweet by President Trump that said it would be a shame if nations lobby against the United States in this vote. Nations that the US supports, and has supported. And it was a threat. But FIFA doesn't allow any politics, football in a country has to be run away from politics. So Mr. Infantino of course started answering a completely different question. So I had to grab the microphone back off of the FIFA representative that had handed it to me and wrestle it back off him. I interrupt, which sounds quite rude, but I had to do it to Mr. Infantino to get him back to the question I asked. Which he then answered again failing to actually make reference to the tweet or Mr. Trump. So I went to him for a third time and finally we got to what really happens with FIFA. Everyone sort of wants to present themselves as a duck or a swan on the water where they're all very calm, but there's so much happening beneath the surface and I got beneath the surface the third time I went to them because he said: nobody tells FIFA what to do. You saw a little flash of discomfort that was almost anger. And that's the real FIFA that everyone's calm on the surface. A lot’s going on behind closed doors and a lot is left unsaid by them. 

[00:07:36] RS: That was Lee Wellings in Moscow. 

[00:07:38] DG: Well well done Lee Wellings. I approve of journalists who persistently ask the question. Yeah there's an awful lot going on beneath the surface. You know, while politics has clearly colonized the FIFA congress, it's good to know that good old fashioned money still talks. That seems to me the reason that the 2026 World Cup has gone to the United bid. What did you make of that Tony? 

[00:08:02] TK: Remember the FIFA bribery system is not, you don't have to have individuals pocketing wads of cash. You know national federations are going to make a choice. Are they making a choice based on what's best for the game? No they're making a choice on what's best for them. So who's going to be funding their development programs and so on? It's bribery that suits the federation and empowers its leaders. But it's not putting money in their Swiss bank accounts. 

[00:08:23] DG: I thought there was a fantastic little move from the Brazilian Federation who of course were pledged to vote for the United bid along with the rest of CONMEBOL and the dude from Brazil votes for Morocco because he thought it was going to be a secret ballot and he would get away with switching his votes at the last minute. I can't imagine why he did that. But I can imagine a man who would know. A man who knows more about South American football, really the most. Tim Vickery, a journalist who's written for the BBC, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated covers the game from Rio where he's lived for the last two decades. And last week I had a chance to catch up with Tim Vickery on Skype and ask him about how the South Americans - the five teams who are here at World Cup 2018 - are going to do. And how they’ve fared in a more globalized football world. 

[00:09:16] RS: Alright, let’s go ahead and hear that interview.

[00:09:22] DG: The doyen of English speaking football journalists in South America. The one the only Tim Vickery. Tim, welcome to the show. 

[00:09:30] Tim Vickery: And Portuguese speaking as well. You know I do a column for BBC Brazil. I do a lot of Brazilian TV so this is, this is a bilingual career that I've ludicrously ended up in. 

[00:09:39] DG: And I'm delighted to say you also taught the whole of BBC Match of the Day how to actually pronounce names in Spanish and Portuguese at the last World Cup. I hope you'll be doing the same this time around. 

[00:09:51] TV: I don't think so. And I think there's been considerable backsliding since. But I'll try and be part of the pronunciation police.

[00:09:57] DG: South America have got five teams at the 2018 World Cup: Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and Peru. And yet they come without having won the World Cup since 2002. For what it's worth the World Club Cup has been won once by a South American team since 2007. And although we see, you know, an extraordinary number of amazing Latin American players constantly on our screen, apart from Brazil none of these five are really favorites. So what's the state of South American football? Has globalization been kind to it? 

[00:10:34] TV: No it clearly hasn't it's been very very unkind. First it's taken the players. You look at the Brazil squad, there are three home base players in that. You look at the Argentina squad, there are three home base players in that. Peru’s coach says you know it's not really a measure of quality to do well in the Peruvian league. So it's taken the players but it's also- globalization has also taken the ideas. We're seeing more ideas of play coming out of Europe. So the fate of South American football at the moment is watching the best players on TV, many of which it produces, but instead of selling its spectacle its selling its stars. 

[00:011:21] DG: Clearly there's an inequality between Europe and South America and globalisation as you say. The players, the interest, the focus, the money is all in Europe. Where did that go into Latin American football? Why haven't we seen the benefits? And similarly, you got all of these players playing at the very top level in Europe. Why are they not- why are they not part of a network bringing this kind of knowledge and sophistication back home at the end of their careers? 

[00:11:49] TV: Yeah very good questions. I think part of the reason for where the money is gone is that it's gone to pay the wages of three, four months ago. You're dealing with a wage structure of global football which has become inflated by what has happened in Europe. So wages for a South American player especially in Brazil and a little bit in Argentina have gone up a lot. Even with TV rights the activity runs at a loss. So the clubs are forced to sell in order to balance the books. Now this leads you into a very dangerous area where some of those in charge of football, some of those running football, almost have a vested interest in the failure of the domestic model. Because while the domestic model is failing, that creates the necessity to sell players, which creates the opportunity for money to be funneled into private bank accounts. 

[00:12:40] DG: I'm shocked and delighted by your cynicism on that question. OK from one tangled web to another tangled web: the Russia 2018 World Cup. Let's start with Peru, Tim. They haven't been there since 1982, so where have Peru been? How did they get back, and what does it mean in Peru? 

[00:13:00] TV: Well it means so much. For the likes of Peru, they don't really have any great hopes of winning the tournament. But qualifying is like a statement to the world: we're here. We exist. We are part of the global discourse. 

[00:13:15] DG: Except when it comes to the Panini sticker supply chain, I hear. 

[00:13:19] TV: Well doesn't that show it? Because Panini underestimated the demand for stickers in Peru. The fact that Peru had qualified for the first time since 1982 sent the entire country into a mass frenzy. Fights breaking out in shops over the remaining stickers because there just weren't enough and the whole country wanted to complete its album. The whole country wanted to feel part of this event because they had been, for nearly 20 years, absolutely terrible. Really awful. Not only weak technically and tactically but also caught in an absolute spiral of self-hatred. 

[00:13:56] DG: So what's changed it for them, Tim? 

[00:13:59] TV: Well they brought in a coach Ricardo Gareca, who looks a lot like a kind of faded 1970s rock guitarist. What he has brought to an environment prone to great histeria is calm. And well they had perhaps two pieces of good fortune. On one there was an extra Copa America in 2016 to celebrate the centenary of the tournament. Now that gave Peru an opportunity to regroup and for the coach to work with his players and it's after that that their results really picked up. And the other one was that they lost a game away to Bolivia two-nil, but Bolivia brought on a player for the last 10 minutes who was later ruled ineligible. So that game that Peru had lost two-nil, they were awarded by a stroke of a pen, three-nil. Without those points, and without those goals, they would not have got to Russia. But they have proved worthy of their good fortune because they were a form side towards the end of the qualification campaign and they go to Russia with an element of swagger about them. 

[00:15:00] DG: OK they're up against France, Australia, and Denmark what chance of them getting out the group, Tim? 

[00:15:05] TV: Well what we've seen from some Latin American teams in this situation before, those you know playing their first World Cup- either first World Cup or the first World Cup for this generation, is that sometimes it can all be too much. Now the experience can be too much, the mental pressures can be too much. And I'm thinking, say, Ecuador 2002 or Honduras 2010. They don't actually play with their best football until the third game, by which time it's too late. Peru must hit the ground running.

[00:15:34] DG: Peru are newbies, but what about Colombia who are, you know, last time around were often everybody's second team. A really fabulous bunch of players: James Rodriguez, Falcao, etc. and a really lovely crowd a lot of the time in Brazil. They're back again, they're maturing. What sort of chance have they got? 

[00:15:55] TV: Before the last World Cup, the coach the Argentine Jose Pekerman he said that Brazil 2014 will be the moment when Colombia take a definitive place at football's top table. Step one is completed, they reach the quarter finals for the first time ever in the style that you mentioned. Subsequently they have consistently been disappointing. Their qualification campaign was a very labored affair with very few highlights. But that potential still exists. One problem I think they had in qualification was that the coach never knew his best side. He used I think 45 players in 18 games which is too many. Now you got to focus on 23 and I think that that's a help. James has had a frustrating four years because only so many players can be important at Real Madrid. He loves being important with Colombia. The center forward Radamel Falcao Garcia, who missed the last World Cup through injury, made a desperate attempt to get fit in time and probably put his career on the line — well he's now available. This will be his only World Cup. There is potential in this Colombia side. It wouldn't surprise me if they were to reach the quarter finals again but I can't see them going beyond. But if we if we're thinking of a nation in the future, outside Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina, the South American nations who've already won the World Cup, if we're looking for a nation who one day will be capable of doing that, it's got to be Colombia. 

[00:17:12] DG: One of the amazing things about South American and Latin American football is often presidential and federal elections get timed to occur in the middle of World Cups. And in Colombia's case, the cycle is like absolutely dead on. And we are going to have a second round runoff, which I think will be necessary from the look of Colombian politics of the moment, bang in the middle of the World Cup. I wonder if you've ever been in Columbia, Tim, when this kind of stuff is going on? Because at the last World Cup, the degree of partying and then shooting and madness that followed just the opening game of Colombia's campaign saw the mayor of Bogota, who is one of the candidates in the presidential election, actually you know ban drinking on future match days. Have you got any sense of what the mood in Colombia around this team is? 

[00:18:01] TV: Yeah well I well remember being in Colombia when there was a referendum. All the bars were shut in an effort to stop some of that madness, but it ended up just making it more sinister. I had a gun pulled on me that night and, you know, I ran like mad, which perhaps wasn't the wisest thing to do, but it got me out of trouble. They are, they are such lovely people the Colombians. I've never felt more warmly welcomed anywhere and well at least I think you know that the country is much saner than it was back in the 80s or 90s when they had that first great football side whose history, whose trajectory, is absolutely marked between two goals scored by Andres Escobar. You know the one at Wembley in 88 when they got a 1-1 draw with England was seen by the Colombians as a day when they came of age. And then of course the one in his own net against the United States in USA 94 which ended up ending his life. And the absolute madness of senseless murders that Colombia was a spiral of lunacy that Colombia was caught in at the time. Thankfully things are not quite so bad a couple decades later. 

[00:19:06] DG: So from the curse of cocaine in Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s to the joy of legal marijuana in Uruguay in the 21st century. Super tranky Uruguay the most laid back place on the planet. How is it, Tim, that this extraordinary tiny little country, 3 million people, sits- you know we're not talking 1930, 1950 World Cups. Now in the 21st century, it's still at the top table, still producing this extraordinary number of great players. What's the alchemy there? 

[00:19:43] TV: Well first its history as their coach Ondino Viera said in this 1966 World Cup: other countries have their history, Uruguay has its football. What else do you associate with Uruguay? Football is what Uruguay does its as the great Eduardo Galeano wrote, you know that football team is like their proof of a nation. This buffer state between Brazil and Argentina. It's got its football. So you always get this thing of one generation inspiring the next. But also, you've got a very bright fella in charge of the national team, Oscar Washington Tabarez- 

[00:20:13] DG: What a name that is. 

[00:20:14] TV: It is, yeah. He's been the coach “El Maestro” because he's as well as being a former footballer and a coach with a glorious history he's also a qualified teacher and he brings very much that kind of academic approach. You know the chat that we started with, the effect of globalization on South American football, that's all he thought about. He came to the obvious conclusion that we are a nation with 3 million. Our domestic football doesn't really matter. We're never going to be able to hang on to our best players. We're going to lose them at an ever-earlier age. So if we're going to stay competitive what we've got to do, is we've got to use the youth sides to produce men, citizens, and players. But we're not producing players for Uruguayan domestic football, we're producing players for globalized football. And that means that these players, you groom them, you give them an absolute crash course in the identity and the importance of that sky blue shirt that the Uruguayan national team wear with such pride. It's almost like the Jesuits you know then you got them for life. 

[00:21:18] DG: Is that enough to get them to the semifinals? 

[00:21:21] TV: Possibly because the draw has been relatively kind, certainly in the group phase it's been relatively kind. The big question now, I think, is are those young players ready to produce under the spotlight of the World Cup? It's one thing to do it in a friendly competition in China when they look very good beating the Czech Republic and Wales. That's one thing. But can those young players produce that level of performance under the global spotlight of the World Cup? And that's going to be one of the most fascinating issues at the tournament. 

[00:21:46] DG: I think they're asking the same question in Argentina but not of their youth but one of their most mature players. Once again Argentina comes to the World Cup and it's essentially Messi plus and the nation waits for him to finally perform so he can ascend to divine status alongside Maradona. Is there any chance of that this time around? 

[00:22:07] TV: Well I think one- the idea that Messi doesn't perform for the national team now has to be put to bed. It's becoming increasingly clear how brilliant he has to be in order to carry a pretty ordinary group of players, especially in the defensive positions. Without Messi they wouldn't have qualified. I can't ever remember a team as dependent on one player. He missed eight games in qualification. In those eight games Argentina picked up seven points. He played 10 games in those 10 games Argentina picked up 21 points. Do the math. And you know we just talked about Uruguay and the importance of the under 20 sides, over the last decade the quality of Argentina's youth work has just fallen off a cliff and this has also filtered through to the senior side. The goalkeepers, the fullbacks, the center backs and almost all of them in the current squad are over 30 and there's hardly a good international class player there. 

[00:23:02] DG: So what's your prognosis? Can they get past- I mean I'm looking at the group and you know Nigeria, Iceland, Croatia, none of them in their own way an entire pushover. They should get past them shouldn't they? Or perhaps not? 

[00:23:14] TV: Well, you remember Thunderbirds, anything can happen in the next half hour. Argentina is like this. Anything can happen in the next 30 days. Now going into the World Cup, Nigeria who they're playing, took them apart in a friendly to win 4-2, Spain thrashed them 6-1. And so Argentina really, you know, when they started preparing for the World Cup, they're starting from scratch. On the other hand in comparison with four years ago, Messi arrives at the World Cup, we think much much fresher. Now they wrapped up the Spanish league title early. Barcelona for the third consecutive year were knocked out of the Champions League at the quarter final stage. It would seem for his last World Cup in his prime and perhaps his last World Cup or perhaps his last games for Argentina, it would seem that Messi is in better shape than he's been for previous tournaments. Perhaps Argentina could put in a challenge. 

[00:24:11] DG: You're not sounding too hopeful, Tim. 

[00:24:13] TV: Well I think it would be, it would be a great story. 

[00:24:15] DG: Oh, wouldn't it just we'd all we'd all love that. Last but not least Brazil. We know under Tite they are transformed. They are playing well, they have new shape and application. Have they recovered from 7-1? Is that a factor? Where are their heads at? 

[00:24:34] TV: No, I think they have. You know you look at the World Cup qualification campaign after he took over. That's 10 victories, two draws, 30 goals scored and three conceded. 

[00:24:45] DG: Hard to argue with. 

[00:24:46] TV: So I think that they've got their mojo back. And it really struck me vividly, four years ago, I was in almost like an international bunker. You know in the BBC studios and a lot of people turned up with that romantic image of Brazilian football which hadn't really applied for a few years and during the course of the World Cup even while Brazil were winning games they were losing friends. It just wasn't very easy on the eye. 

My real hope for Brazil in this World Cup is win or lose, and you know winning is going to be tough. Brazil are amongst the favorites. But win or lose, they remind us all of why we all fell in love with Brazil in the first place. Well I think this team has the potential to do that. They've got, they have the potential to make that ball sing a little bit. So as an old romantic who cares more about being represented than actually winning titles, that's always my justification as a Tottenham fan, I'm quite optimistic about Brazil going into this World Cup. 

[00:25:36] DG: Well dude if they can play as well as you can talk about South American football they're going to go all the way to the final. Tim Vickery It's been an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you very much for being with us. 

[00:25:47] TV: My pleasure.

[00:25:54] DG: You can follow Tim on Twitter at Tim underscore Vickery. That's V I C K E R Y. Tim underscore Vickery. I should also say I will be appearing on the World Football Phone In on BBC Radio 5 Live with Tim and the rest of the crew tonight. 2:00 a.m. in the UK. But it will be available streaming online. Tony, what did you make of Tim's analysis of South American football and the impact of globalization? 

[00:26:21] TK: Well I think everybody tries to play the same way more or less. I mean there's certain global conventions. Globalization has brought that to the game and you know the question for Brazil obviously is going to be which European model they adopt. Are they going to park the bus as they've done in previous tournaments or are they going to play a little more expressively and expansively? One key question for me and it's not just because I'm a Liverpool fan, but I do believe they have the most advanced center forward in the game right now in their squad but he's usually on the bench. 

[00:26:54] DG: And who would that be? Roberto Firmino. 

[00:26:58] TK: Yes Roberto Firmino brings a dimension to the forward's game that nobody else does. Roberto Firmino will create will set up more crises and opposition defences than anybody else at this tournament. That's just the tip. A tip for Titê from Tony. 

[00:27:12] DG: It gives me enormous pleasure to see you grind your Liverpool axe on these occasions. Well we will see. This weekend Brazil are playing. Same so too are Argentina. There are all sorts of games coming up. So I guess it makes sense to move to our What to Watch segment. 

[00:27:33] RS: All right there's that bumper again. So the idea here is there's so much happening during the World Cup. And I'm going to keep asking you guys for help and how to make sense of it all. What games are actually worth waking up at 4:00 in the morning to watch or what are the geo political dramas that are unfolding on the pitch that I should be aware of? Basically, what should I watch?

[00:27:51] DG: Tony, what are your thoughts on that? 

[00:27:54] TK: The game of which about which I'm most passionate this weekend would be Mexico and Germany on Sunday. I, you know I think El Tri, the Mexican national team, really represents so much in terms of the hopes and the morale of a nation that's in a lot of political turmoil. 

[00:28:10] DG: Do you mean the United States or Mexico? 

[00:28:12] TK: Well actually both. Both because actually it means so much to tens of millions of people in Mexico but also to millions of Mexicans either Mexican Americans or Mexicans without citizenship inside the United States who've suffered the slings and arrows of the Trump administration - slings and arrows and worse. The United States is not even there. Mexico is there. This represents the hopes and dreams. We all have to get behind Hirving Lozano, the player to watch. Better known as El Chucky. El Chucky for the horror movie character. We all need to get behind him and I think also given this NAFTA World Cup bid that is going to be 2026. Well here's a test because the only home team for North American fans in the tournament is Mexico. Is white America going to get behind El Tri? I hope so. 

[00:29:02] DG: You heard it here first. 

[00:29:03] RS: David what about you? What are you going to be watching? 

[00:29:05] DG: Well I'm going to hand over the reins of What to Watch on this episode to one of our favorite guests from Series 1, Shireen Ahmed. You may remember Shiren is a writer and football activist from Toronto, Canada. And I was particularly interested to know what's going on, you know, in Toronto because the World Cup sure it's happening in Russia but as we always say really it's happening absolutely everywhere else where people are gathering around TV sets and communities are watching games together. So I wanted to know what she's watching. I wanted to know what Toronto will be watching at the World Cup. I gave her a call on Skype earlier this week to find out. 

[00:29:47] DG: Hello Shireen, and welcome back to the show. 

[00:29:50] Shireen Ahmed: Hi David. Thank you so much for having me. 

[00:29:53] DG: Oh no it's a pleasure and it's a pleasure to have you here at the beginning of the World Cup. Tell me what's the match in the early stages that you're most looking forward to seeing, and why? 

[00:30:01] SA: Um the one that I've really got my eye on is Uruguay and Egypt on Friday. And I'll tell you why. Because it's the end of Ramadan and the last fast breaks on sundown on Thursday night which means that there'll be this huge unified prayer for Egypt and they'll be prayers for Mo Salah's quick recovery. And I will probably be celebrating Eid somewhere and at a huge prayer hall with thousands of people who will also be on their phones pretending to be paying attention to the sermon and the congregational prayer when in fact checking scores. 

[00:30:37] DG: That is sensational I had no idea that the timing is that the Eid, the end of Ramadan the last fast, it's all done, and Egypt are going to be playing Uruguay in the World Cup. 

[00:30:48] SA: I will probably have earbuds on under my hijab livestreaming the match. I think I might be disinvited to Eid prayer this year. 

[00:30:58] DG: I love it it's like being at school in the early 1980s when we used to listen to cricket test matches would you believe on radio commentaries secretly in class, similarly with the wires going up the sleeve of your school jumper. What's the World Cup like in Toronto? These days it's a very global city. It's extraordinarily diverse you know but neither the Canadians, the Jamaicans, the Italians, or the Irish who are four of the biggest communities are in this World Cup. So who is Toronto rooting for? Who in the diaspora is out there with a team? Who are the neutrals going to follow? 

[00:31:36] SA: You're right. Toronto is very global and because Canada has only been to the World Cup once and never been since, in 1986, communities have a tendency, and such beautiful multicultural rich communities, root for their own. I've seen so many Egyptian flags I cannot tell you. I've also seen quite a bit of Spain. I'm trying to acquire an Iranian one which is far more difficult than one might expect. We see France, Germany-

[00:32:02] DG: But the Egyptian thing is fantastic. I mean Toronto is not particularly known for a kind of Egyptian population, so is this Arab speaking peoples from all over the region who have settled in Canada who are adopting Egypt as they're team or have we just discovered a lot of Egyptians all of a sudden? 

[00:32:18] SA: I think the area in which I live is is a very very diverse and there are quite a few Egyptians and I think that what you'll find is people from maybe Muslim majority world that don't qualify or can't attend will be looking to a neighbor. I have a friend who is Pakistani and Pakistani for generations but saying no no no no, historically I'm Iranian, I'm Persian, historically. So will support team Melli and I understand that because I can make the same argument. But then I you know I tell people that my love is for Morocco, the support is for Iran. So I mean and of course then there's Brazil. If you love football you love Brazil. I mean so there's always that- 

[00:32:54] DG: Shireen. It sounds to me like this is going to be one long cosmopolitan love fest for you which is just how the World Cup should be. I really thank you so much for speaking to us. I really hope we can catch up with you and Toronto and all of those Egyptian fans and find out how it goes. 

[00:33:13] SA: Thank you so much David. 

[00:33:16] DG: Pleasure. You can hear more of Shireen on her own podcast Burn it All Down. Meantime we are out of time but we will be back next Tuesday and next Friday because we are coming out twice a week for the rest of the World Cup. So mark your calendars. Until then, subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow us on Twitter at Game of Our Lives. This show is a production of Al Jazeera's Jetty Studios. Recorded at the Sound Town Studios in Bristol UK. Music from Bang Data. Thank you Tony Karon. 

[00:33:59] TK: (Speaks Russian) 

[00:34:50] DG: And thank you to our producer Raja Shah. 

[00:34:52] RS: Thanks David.

[00:34:55] DG: I'm David Goldblatt and we will see you on Tuesday. Enjoy. 

[00:34:59] DG: Guys, I’m almost getting nostalgic for Shakira.